Around two decades after she entered Parliament, Senator Penny Wong was on Monday sworn in as Australia’s new foreign minister, making her one of the most powerful LGBTQI women political leaders and Asian-Australian in the country today.
Australia elected its 31st Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Saturday as Labor cruised to a historic win. Soon after the swearing-in ceremony on Monday morning, Wong and Albanese flew to Tokyo for the meeting with Quad leaders from the US, Japan and India.
In an interview with Star Observer in April, 53-year-old Wong, who came out as a lesbian in 2002 a month after she took her seat in the Senate, said that she had never set out to be a role model.
“I’ve never sought to be a role model but I have come to understand that you can’t be what you can’t see,” said Wong, who was voted Australia’s most trusted politician in a Roy Morgan poll in March 2022. “I think it will send a pretty powerful message to the world about where Australia is as a nation, to have me as Foreign Minister.”
‘I Have Been Called A Quota Girl’
As an out Asian-Australian woman politician, Wong revealed that she had had to face her share of misogyny, homophobia and racism.
“Of course, I have not been immune to that during my career. I’ve been cat-called, I’ve been called a quota girl,” Wong had said in the interview.
“There’s no doubt that homophobia is still a problem across our community, and the remnants of that are reflected in our parliament also. I think most politicians – particularly women – will be able to tell you we get some pretty nasty comments on social media. Unfortunately for me, those comments will sometimes have an ugly homophobic undertone,” said Wong.
Wong had promised that an Albanese Labor government would “work with and empower the community in decisions that impact LGBTQI+ Australians.”
Australia’s New Foreign Minister Has Set Her Priorities
In the interview, Wong had also outlined her priorities if she was appointed as the Foreign minister.
“The approach we take is to see the world as it is and seek to change it for the better. This requires an active foreign policy to deliver for our interests and our values – including human rights for all people,” Wong had said.
“That will mean strong and proactive advocacy for human rights around the world and in global forums, and drawing on the resources we have and working with others to raise the costs of human rights abuses.”
On the personal front, Wong lives with her partner Sophie Allouache and the couple’s two children. Wong said that her efforts to protect her family from the rigours of political life have not always been successful.
“Public office comes with many sacrifices – but the greatest is of course the impact it has on those closest to us. My partner and kids bear the brunt of that, with so much time away, or on the phone,” Wong said.
“We work hard at finding ways to stay connected, like reading the same books, even if we can’t be in the same city,” Wong said offering a rare insight into her private family life.